The Emmanuel Church Story by Roland Peterson, Church Historian, Summer, 1991



About the Author…


Pete Peterson is one of those rare specimens --- a charter member of Emmanuel Evangelical Free Church. He was attending U.C.L.A. when his dad Emmanuel Peterson was able to buy a struggling little church at Fifth and Harvard.


The church history is related elsewhere but Pete served in the U. S. Coast Guard in World War II. He ended up as a Chaplain's Assistant and while serving in Long Beach, he met a cute little Arkansas girl who became Mrs. Peterson.


After Pete won the war, oh there were a few other fellows too, he decided to finish his education at Redlands University. After completing his college work, he was able to come back to his old high school and teach and coach for nigh onto 40 years.


Now retired and living in the old family home at 6th and Walnut he is completing a dream come true. Emmanuel Echoes and all the gems that became part of Pete's make-up are included in this literary effort. I hope you'll enjoy it.


A quick word of gratitude --- Without the gracious effort and kind work of Arlene Larson, I never would have completed this document.


The printing was completed by one of my former students, Bruce Jones and his I.P.F. Printing Company on Magnolia Blvd.


(Original document scanned and rendered into HTML by another one of Pete’s students, Wes Clark, BHS ’74.)




The history of the Emmanuel Church began during the waning days of the 1930's. The church actually had its beginning when a group of Scandinavian folks began a series of Wednesday night prayer meetings in the home of Emmanuel and Elizabeth Peterson at 600 Walnut Avenue, right here in Burbank. The meetings fluctuated between Pa and Ma Peterson's house and the house of Arnold and Margaret Peterson.


Who were these noble pioneers who began this unique work those many years ago? First of all, they took the name of the Home Mission Group of Burbank and they numbered 40-50 adults plus children. Most of the folks were attending the Eagle Rock Covenant Church, pastored by a young minister, Rev. Arvid Carlson. They began meeting with Arvid's blessing, not knowing what the future would hold.


However, in order to fully understand the real inside story you would have to understand the heart cry of Pa and Ma Peterson. Arriving in Burbank in 1929 as migrants from Illinois, they knew the closest church was on Lake Avenue in Pasadena. So every Sunday Pa and Ma Peterson packed the car with their six children and they would spend the whole day in Pasadena. You younger folks won't believe this, but there was 'nary a freeway around so it was quite a trek. For several years they commuted to Pasadena, but then about 1936-37.they walked into a new struggling Covenant Church in Eagle Rock. There was only a handful of people but when the Petersons moved in and began recruiting newly displaced Swedes in the Burbank area, the church began to grow. Those were exciting days as Arvid Carlson and the folks built a thriving work.


However, an unquenched desire still lingered in Pa's and Ma's heart. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have our own church right here in beautiful little Burbank. That's when they decided to start the prayer meetings, and, my, how they did pray for the good Lord to open the doors and lead to a new church. The Petersons were in the building game and Pa came across an interesting piece of real Estate only 4 blocks from home. This now was the year 1941 so the group had been meeting for almost 2 years; a small Full Gospel Tabernacle was on the market but the Reformed Church of the Latter Day Saints was also interested in it. Pa was no dummy and he knew his real estate so he closed a deal before the Mormons could take over. Their prayers had been answered. The Lord had led them to the “promised land” and Pa dedicated the little church to the Lord's work.


My records show that at first they were called the American­ Scandinavian Church, and I'm sure the names of the charter members give a hint behind that name. However, when they got around formally to naming the church, the good folks decided to name the church “The Emmanuel Church of Burbank." There were two reasons behind this choice: first, they wanted to honor Pa Peterson whose foresight and generosity had brought this all about, and secondly, Emmanuel means, “God with us" and believe me this was the center of the will of that small nucleus that began the work in 1941.


The first service held in the new church was on June 8, 1941.


The Lord had provided a shepherd for the new flock also. A Sears, Roebuck and Co. Salesman from the L.A. Covenant Church had been meeting with the new group on a part-time basis. In September they tendered Elford (Al) Sundstrom a call and he accepted to become the first pastor of the Emmanuel Church of Burbank. The dedication service was held on September 7 at 3:30 in the afternoon with Rev. Martin Luther Long from the First Baptist Church of Burbank as guest speaker. There were 49 charter members, and here is a list of their names:


Mr. & Mrs. Emmanuel Peterson

Mrs. Amanda Swanson

Mr. & Mrs. Roy Stenberg

Mr. John Swanson

Mr. & Mrs. Arnold Peterson

Mr. & Mrs. Reinold Peterson

Mr. Roland Peterson

Miss Ruth Peterson

Mr. & Mrs. Herman Swartz

Mr. Marvin Swartz

Mr. &, Mrs. Thurston Swartz

Mr. & Mrs. Russell Swartz

Mr. & Mrs. Arvid Newquist

Miss Evelyn Newquist

Mr. & Mrs. Gustav Olson

Mr. & Mrs. Charles Ostrom

Mr. &. Mrs. John Eckman

Mr. & Mrs. Leigh Hilt

Mr. & Mrs. Walter Holmdahl

Mr. Henry Jerner

Mr. & Mrs. Eli Mattson

Mr. & Mrs. Einar Edelberg

Mr. & Mrs. Leonard Edelberg

Mr. Gordon Edelberg

Mr. Robert Edelberg

Mr. & Mrs. Axel Carlson

Mr. & Mrs. Herman Anderson

Rev. Elford Sundstrom

Mr. John Eckgren

Mr. & Mrs. Robert Swanson


You noticed there are very few Gentiles in the lot, just a bunch of really happy and dedicated Scandinavians. Many of these folks have gone onto their heavenly reward. There are only 2 charter members still active in the Emmanuel Church: Margaret Peterson and yours truly. By the way, Arnold Peterson was elected the first church chairman and Roy Stenberg was made the Sunday school superintendent and also became the choir director.


World War II had erupted for us Americans on that fateful day of December 7, 1941. A lot of people came west during this period due to war work, etc. Many people came from such unique places as Rockford, Illinois and other Swedish colonies. Many found their way to the warmth and love of the Emmanuel Church and we began to grow. In 1942 the first addition was added to the original little chapel. It included a room along Fifth Street (a dirt street at this time) which was to be used as a nursery. The first anniversary was a highlight of 1942. First mate Bob and the crew of the Good Ship Grace presented a fine program on Thursday evening and the first annual banquet was held on Friday evening, June 19. The price was an outlandish 85 cents. Dr. Don Householder was the speaker. The church continued to grow during the war years even though many of us brave young men were away winning the war. More additions were made to add to the auditorium and basement as well as provide additional Sunday school rooms.


By 1944 the church was progressing so well that a new work was started in the valley. On October 22, 1944 the first services were held in the Emmanuel Chapel at 204 N. Brighton. This work developed so well that the group soon took over and were off on their own. This work is now the flourishing Valley Baptist Church.


The year 1946 saw our first change in pastors. Rev. Dwight Wadsworth accepted and preached his first sermon on June 9, 1946. He had just returned from a tour of duty as Army Chaplain in Europe and was studying at USC. The work grew and developed under his ministry. Soon after he was called the congregation built the parsonage at 500 E. Harvard Rd. Many of our men were handy with the tools involved in construction and many hours of donated labor went into the building. However, the crowded church facilities also had to be expanded as we were meeting in the garage also; had to be expanded as we were meeting in the garage, even the old church bus, and what have you. It was obvious something had to be done. A big building program was laid out at out annual banquet in 1948 and the church got behind the unique Bond and Share program. It was a most interesting method to raise money. We called it the Talent Program and

It worked this way: every member was given $10.00 and were challenged to put the "stake" to good use, make it grow, and the harvest was collected at the end of the program. My, what unusual methods were used by our ingenious church pioneers. With great faith and determination, a fine edifice, the church sanctuary was started in October of 1948 and after many hours of volunteer labor and many dollars in cost, plus lots of sweat, it was joyfully dedicated on April 23, 1950.


Soon afterward Rev. Wadsworth resigned to attend the University of Edinburgh. The church called Rev. Orville L. Shick. After a short ministry he was called back into the chaplain’s service due to the Korean War. We then called rev. Clarence Nida and he soon suffered the same fate. This was a very trying period in our history. Two pastors were called and both were forced to leave within a 6-month period.


The church now looked to Fuller Seminary where they found and called a young, energetic pastor by the name of Wayne Wessner. The work began to move ahead again, and then Wayne accepted a call to a church in Whittier in the mid-50's. Again, a search went out for a new pastor. Being an independent church, the search was always very demanding and often frustrating. Finally a call went out to Rev. Donald Stover who was in Oakland. California. He accepted the call and came to shepherd the flock. The work soon began to flourish once again.


It was during the 1950's that we purchased the property on Cypress Avenue. There was a little struggling church across the alley and when we managed to buy it, we converted it into Sunday school rooms and youth facilities. In the late 50's Rev. Stover accepted a call to a church in San Jose and we were in the market for a new pastor once again. The church board under chairman Herb Vincent made a thorough study and some mighty big decisions were made which had a great effect on our church's history. It was decided to join a denomination and after a thorough investigation we decided to affiliate with the growing Evangelical Free Church of America. We were fortunate at this time to have in our membership Rev. Milford Sholund of Gospel Light fame. He accepted a position as Interim Pastor and led us handily through this crucial period. Under his wise leadership a complete reorganization of the church was carried out. Now we could look to our new denomination to help us locate a new shepherd. Rev. Wally Norling played an important role at this time and has continued to be a real close friend of our church.


Finally, a call went out to Rev. Carroll Nelson from the Richvale, California. Free Church and he accepted the challenge. What a wise decision this proved to be for our church and we progressed dramatically under his dedicate and wise leadership. The installation service was held on September 10, 1961, and a new chapter in Emmanuel history was ready to unfold. A gigantic building program was undertaken which involved our entire church body.


The little old church across the alley was torn down and a new Christian Education building was started. This added many new Sunday school rooms and facilities for our Junior and Senior High young people. Next on the schedule was the construction of a new gymnasium and fellowship hall on the lots right below the Christian education building. Boy, how exciting this was for everyone in the church! Ma Peterson loved the young people and she donated a generous gift which Arnie matched, and in her honor we named the new facility Elizabeth Hall.


An ongoing building program, remodeling facilities, updating facilities as needs arose have continued here at Emmanuel Church right up to the present time. Countless hours, numbers of dedicated men and women, much sweat and tears, lots of prayers and many dollars have created the church facilities that we enjoy so much today. One man illustrates the type of men I'm talking about, and that's none other than Dale Goudy.


Pastor Carroll remained with us until 1969 when he accepted a call to our seminary in Chicago. After a time of search and prayer we called Lareau Lindquist from the farmlands of the Midwest. My, he was energetic and enthusiastic. Again we moved ahead and our facilities, membership and staff grew. One of the staff additions during Pastor Carroll's tenure, was a young new pastor from the Midwest, Rev. Bud Smith. He continued as Lareau's assistant and lent a new facet to our flourishing work.


After a rather short stay, Lareau accepted a call to a new free church in Yorba Linda and again decisions had to be made. These can always be very trying times. After due considerations, Bud Smith was asked to step up and become the Senior Pastor. He carried on until May of 1978 when he accepted a call to a church in New York.


­This period in the 1970's was probably the most difficult time our church ever faced. There were some serious differences which had developed within our church family. We lost some good people and were a little like a ship without a rudder. A good nucleus of dedicated and loyal people stayed with the work and in the summer of 1978 we enjoyed a young student pastor from Talbot Seminary who preached every Sunday morning. By the end of the summer the church membership voted to call Pastor Steve Goold to fill the pulpit and fill it he did.


Lots of changes came, and progress began to move ahead. There were several changes in the staff over the next 12 years but my how our church flourished. Most of you know what has happened, leading up to our present period. Tremendous church growth, wonderful people coming in and joining the work, great growth in giving, in missionary support, in our music ministry with Glenn Pickett -- in every facet of church life.


The nineties have been a unique period in Emmanuel Church history. After a very fruitful ministry here in our midst, Pastor Steve accepted a call to the Crystal Evangelical Free Church in Minneapolis. It was very difficult to see the Goolds leave us. However, he had an excellent staff, which carried on nobly, but of course we wondered how the Lord would answer our needs for a new pastor.


A search committee worked behind the scenes and we progressed under the ministry of our remaining staff. Pastor Mel Loucks, Tony De Felicis and Rich Malcolm filled the pulpit and the music ministry was in the good hands of Pete Beers and the talented musicians who were, blessing our church with the special gifts God bestowed on them.


This change in leadership coincided with the 50th anniversary of the founding of our church. Lots of work and planning went into the celebration, which came in the Fall of 1991. We had a big and festive dinner and program at the Airport Hilton Hotel on Friday night. Pastor Steve Goold flew in from Minneapolis and gave us a challenging message. Saturday night we gathered at the Burbank High School auditorium and had a rousing good time.


I was honored to serve as the M.C. (Master of Corn) for the evening. I even resurrected a classic quartet and Bill Miranda and Ray Brown joined Peter Beers and I to render some tunes from yesteryear, which evoked some tears as well as some smiles. We were blessed with the presence of three of our ex-pastors including Dwight Wadsworth, La Rue Lindquist, and of course Steve Goold. Sunday services continued the celebration and included an afternoon open house in Elizabeth Hall.


The search committee had done a good job and they recommended that we call Pastor Neal Brower from the San Diego area. Those of us who were there on the Sunday Pastor Neal candidated will never forget the occasion and the joyous climax on Sunday evening when a formal vote extended a call to Pastor Neal and Judy. They accepted and in July of 1991 came to lead the flock into the 1990's.


History of Emmanuel Church… 1991 and Beyond


As in any pastoral transition, we were met with a significant period of adjustment. There were some staff changes and other key leaders left Emmanuel. As many people were joining the newly emerging congregation, a number also left to find a new church home. One of the more significant staff adjustments came when Peter Beers accepted a position in the Santa Clarita Valley. David Kennedy served as our interim Worship Director and paved the way for Ross Lehman who proved to be a gift from God. As always, our congregation has been blessed and is a blessing, with its gifted musicians. Since we believe that "Worship is the Power," and that the presence of God is ushered in on the wings of the praises of His people, this vital ministry must remain the powerful one it is.


Student Ministries have long been a priority at Emmanuel. An expanded vision of discipleship and outreach was instituted when Doug Howe was brought on staff and the Young Life Partnership was established. We saw the 6th ­- 12th grade ministry double, and then double again, while many found nurture among a large volunteer staff of leaders. In 1997-98, we took another turn to prioritize the youth by hiring a full time Middle School Director and a full time High School Director. Dan Drozdenko and Joel Thomas have brought life and creativity and emphasis on College and Career ministry under the care of our own home-grown Brian Baker, and a more perfect match could not have been created. The group has grown from non-existent to over 40 in a short year.


Pastor Mel Loucks experienced a great deal of change in the season under Pastor Nears leadership. Ministering creatively between The International Theological Seminary, The Global Teaching Network and Emmanuel Church, Mel went from part time teacher to full time Department Head, and back to full time Missions Pastor. We look forward to the next phase of world ministry under Mel's capable and compassionate lead.


When Jim Urbanovich was hired to conduct an analysis of our Children's Ministry needs, we never thought he'd become the effective Children's Pastor of the strongest children's ministry in Emmanuel's life span. The variety and effectiveness in both nuture and outreach is difficult to express, but if you ask any of the hundreds of kids (or their parents) you'll hear the same message of joy.


Connie Karman has served Emmanuel Church Women's Ministries through the course of a lot of change… and to great effect. Moving into the teaching and counseling roles has raised up those who oversee the many events that serve the faithful women of Emmanuel to great encouragement. When, in the Fall of 1998, after a decade and a half of faithful service, Connie decided to step away from formal staff ministry, her assistant, Diane Shordon stepped in and never skipped a beat!


A significant change occurred in the midi-90s when we moved in our understanding of scripture to fall in line with the Bible's teaching on Deacons and Elders. Since the formation of The Elder Board and the consequent constitutional revisions, we have seen a surge in the healthy shepherding of the flock.


The 90's saw a large change in Pastor Tony DeFelicis' role. Serving as our Executive Pastor he now provides leadership to the ever growing staff (now numbering over 30) and many of the discipleship, evangelistic, and teaching ministries. What a blessing this faithful servant is to Emmanuel.


An outreaching heart and a conviction about our ever-changing culture resulted in a divinely appointed relationship with Carlos and Marisa Block. Our Spanish Ministries are meeting an ever growing need with great effect and we are thankful to be poised to minister in our area to the fastest growing segment of the population in our area. We would believe that there are more Latinos among us than there are Scandinavians!


The creation and implementation of a Saturday Evening Worship Service encouraged many for nearly three years (from early '96- late '98), but was discontinued after a difficult discerning process resulted in the need for a return to three Sunday morning services, which are now going like gang-busters. Room to grow and hope for the future!


God has blessed Emmanuel Evangelical Free Church. Pa and Ma and those great pioneers who were instrumental in starting our church must be sitting on the front row up in heaven enjoying every turn of events that affects our church. My, what a wonderful congregation, what an outstanding staff, what super music, Sunday school work, youth work, missionary work - you name it - it's flourishing here on the corner of Harvard and Fifth Streets. Such wonderful people, so much love and caring and many of the people today are not even Swedish.


As God leads us, and we obediently follow, it is our hope that we will discern His will and follow it without hesitation as our impact on Burbank and the surrounding region continues to expand.


At Emmanuel we believe that "Prayer is the Work." Only God can change a heart. And only God can change a community. It is our concerted prayer that He do just that. It is our hope that in a world looking for someone with integrity and something authentic, full of real love, that they will find it among us. We believe that...


The right relationship makes all the difference.


That will require genuine and gracious people who will escort, by their love and acceptance, a people seeking after God right to the cross, and on into heaven!


How the good Lord has blessed. Let's move into the next millennium having a wonderful time centered in God's Word, in His will, striving to be like Christ. The Lord bless you all.



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